KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
So, just how relevant can a rock musical from 1967 be for contemporary audiences? Is “Hair” a quaint, counter-culture period piece that reflects a bygone era, or does it have themes that resonate in 2013?
Judging by the lively production presented by Theater League at the Kauffman Center, “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock-Musical” may be more than just a goofy throwback. After all, in an age of foreign wars, political divisiveness, financial instability and Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s easy to relate to the characters’ desire to “Let the Sunshine In.”
This production, staged by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, won Broadway’s Tony Award as Best Revival of a Musical in 2009. The touring non-Equity ensemble provides an energetic and well-sung interpretation of a show that somehow seems simultaneously dated and edgy.
The era that “Hair” captures was a time of extensive social turmoil. In addition to the movement against the war in Viet Nam and the draft, there was the struggle for racial and gender equality, sexual openness and social justice. When sprinkled with copious drug use, the hippie movement was born. The mantra for the cause was borrowed from Timothy Leary: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
The structure of this musical’s plot, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, is fittingly loose. A racially diverse tribe of hippies hangs out in New York City and the members of this capricious troupe make love, protest the war, smoke dope and sing their hearts out. Groovy, man.
The show’s main conflict involves whether the group’s charismatic but self-centered leader, Berger (Brian Crawford Scott) will be able to talk his conflicted friend Claude (Noah Plomgren) into burning his draft card.
“Hair” starts off with a bang. Danyel Fulton as Dionne introduces us to the tribe through the rock anthem, “Aquarius” and brings the house down with her stunning vocals.
Scott sets the irreverent tone with “Donna”, followed by songs from the ensemble that are obviously intended as a poke in the eye to the establishment; “Hashish,” “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade.”
Plomgren and company fire up the crowd with their rendition of the show’s title tune and Mary Kay Morrissey as Berger’s neglected girlfriend Sheila does a nice job with the poignant ballad, “Easy to be Hard.”
The show’s greatest strength lies in its catchy pop-rock score. While the lyrics by Ragni and Rado are sometimes a bit corny, Galt MacDermot’s appealing melodies carry the day and the youthful and talented cast delivers them with conviction.
The momentum seldom falters, thanks largely to tight direction by Paulus and the kinetic choreography by Karol Armitage.
While it may never provide “mystic crystal revelations and the mind’s true liberation,” “Hair” is still an entertainingly irreverent paean to youthful idealism.
“Hair” contains profanity, drug use and brief nudity. The production runs through February 10th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. Tickets are available by calling 816-994-7222 or by visiting http://theaterleague.com/kansascity/hair/.